So far, the appointment of Andy Byford as the next Transport for London commissioner has been greeted by nothing but applause. Sadiq Khan, who On London understands undertook the final interview, has expressed his “delight”, describing Byford as “perfectly placed” to help London overcome the challenges of the pandemic and “lead us towards a greener transport system”. TfL veterans regard him as an excellent appointment and a top man. Gareth Edwards, editor of London Reconnections, says “Byford’s appointment has made my day”. All glowing and, without a doubt, sincere. But what a massive challenge lies ahead.
Has anyone previously been asked to run a world city’s transport system at a time when his boss is urging people not to use it and national government is to install number crunchers on the board to check on how what little money remains is being spent? The shattered state of TfL’s finances is easy to sum up: Covid has wrecked them and Boris Johnson’s bailout has provided life support only until early autumn. Strings attached include a fares hike and a congestion charge “review” and with them a rather creepy sense that some of Boris Johnson’s more dubitable lieutenants are dying to poke their noses in. One of them was spotted in TfL’s Palestra office just the other day.
Amid all this disquiet, where will Byford begin? He is to start on 29 June and the outgoing Mike Brown will stick around until 10 July. As a former Underground manager, Byford will know the TfL ethos. Not every big figure in TfL in recent years has found Mayor Khan ideal to work with, but the London set-up leaves far less potential for TfL chiefs to be undermined from above, as Byford firmly maintains he was in his last job as Chief Executive Officer of the New York Transit Authority. He talks about all that in the TV clip below. Byford was popular with the public in New York, where he was nicknamed “Train Daddy“. One London admirer reckons his real problem in New York was that the city’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, resented Byford’s greater popularity.
Other large items on Byford’s CV include running Toronto’s transport system and being director of operations at Southern Railway. He was born in Devon, he is 54 years old and he has a big London job of national importance on his hands. Welcome back to London and good luck with everything.
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